Updated 27 May 22
Picture this, you've come up with what you believe is a great startup idea, thought of a great name, and even bought the URL. You've had tons of positive discussions with friends, family, and potential customers who have reassured you that it’s a brilliant concept. However… whilst you've gone some way to validating that there's a good problem to be solved, and maybe you’ve got an idea of what the solution could be, you haven't got the first idea on how to build it!
Here’s what not to do: put your idea to one side and forget about it because you don’t have the expertise to build it.
You don’t need to be a technical person to build a tech startup. As long as you have great industry knowledge, passion, and a deep understanding of the problem that you are trying to solve, then you’re off to a good start. In fact, many great tech companies were founded by people with no technical education, including Micheal Dell, Founder of Dell (yes, the computer and technology company!) and Sean Rad, Co-founder of Tinder.
So, how can you start a tech startup as a non-technical person?
Validate the problem without Tech
Even if you have a great idea for a tech startup, the initial stages of building any startup shouldn’t be overly technical! You should start by validating the problem. 34% of startups fail because of a lack of product-market fit. So, before you do anything you need to make sure that your startup is addressing a market need.
There are several validation experiments that you can undertake with little to no tech skills. Wizard of Oz prototyping is a great way to learn if an idea or feature is useful and needed/ wanted by the user prior to coding anything or investing a significant amount of money. Additionally, fake door tests are a great way to see if there is a desire for your new feature or product. You don’t need to be a tech expert to run these tests!
Whilst you don’t need to be a tech genius, validating your problem without tech requires good quality market and audience research. Speaking to people who actually experience the problem and uncovering valuable insights (not just what they tell you) to make sure that it’s actually something that’s significant and worth solving. We’ve gone into more depth on this in our blog Validating Your Tech Startup Idea Without Wasting Time and Money.
Find a technical partner or cofounder
When you’re looking for a cofounder you need to evaluate if they fill your business needs. In this case, filling the technical skills gaps that you require for your startup. Having a good balance of commercial and technical expertise in your cofounding team will likely increase your startup's chances of success. You’ll better support each other's weaknesses and be able to quickly and roughly delegate tasks between product and commercial, or technical and non-technical. It’s often compared to marriage, so don’t rush into it - you’re looking for the ying to your yang so to speak!
When you’re looking for a technical cofounder you need to consider the fact that being a cofounder is a long-term commitment. Your cofounder needs to not only have technical expertise but should also have a passion for solving the problem at hand, and they must be compatible to work with you. Over one-third of startups fail due to cofounder conflict, something that you need to keep in mind when choosing your technical cofounder.
If you’re struggling with finding a technical cofounder, we wrote a handy ‘5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a co-founder’ guide. Although our model isn’t a traditional cofounder one, through our venture building programme we’ve partnered with over 80 different founders to build and grow their businesses. Taking an active role in all tech and non-tech elements of startups and working closely with founders has allowed us to learn a thing or two about founding team relations!
Focus on what you’re good at
Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, think about how the skills you do have can best support your startup. Do you know which audience you want to target and how to target them? Do you have great organisational skills? Can you manage a team to effectively create the product? The skills you need to be a great tech startup founder aren’t always, and are never solely, technical. Build a support network and utilise your technical cofounder/ partner for things you’re not strong at, and make the best use of your own skills to lead your startup with confidence.
Never stop learning
In the words of Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.”
Building a tech startup comes with many learning curves, but take it as an opportunity to indulge in the learning process. Reach out to your developers, technical co-founder, or support networks and ask them for advice on what basics you should learn. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn just from working with a technical team. Learning has also never been this accessible before, there are thousands of YouTube videos, podcasts, and free courses that you can use to enhance your technical knowledge.
And look, whilst I’m not suggesting that you learn how to do back-end development, understanding the basics will help you in your startup journey. Be curious, ask lots of questions, and admit when you don’t understand something. I’m sure within no time you’ll be throwing around technical jargon in your team meetings!
Remember you don’t have to be a tech expert to found a successful startup, so don’t feel inferior. Go forth, build, learn, admit your knowledge gaps, get help to fill them, experiment, build a team and be open and transparent with each other about your strengths and weaknesses.
In my experience, it’s not the lack of tech knowledge that ever causes the problems, it’s the lack of transparency or ability to do something about it that will kill the startup.